Much of the material here has already been covered in Daniel Poon’s excellent website, www.chenvillage.com , and hence I will try not to duplicate too much. I took the coach from Zhengzhou (capital of Henan province) to Wenxian, which took about two hours, crossing the Huang He (Yellow River) on the way. If you want to base yourself somewhere with western comforts, Wenxian has several hotels. To get to Chen village itself, you can either take a taxi (which takes 10 minutes) or there is a minibus, which is of course much cheaper but has no fixed timetable: like a lot of bus services in the Chinese countryside, it leaves when it’s full.
At first blush, Chen village looks like any other northern Chinese farming village:
However, a walk through the village soon corrects that notion: I would bet that not many northern Chinese villages of this size have 4 commercial martial arts schools! The first school you encounter as you walk into the village is Chen Bing’s new school, the Chen Bing Taiji Academy.
Further along on the right-hand side is Zhu Tiancai’s school:
Now that Zhu Tiancai resides in Singapore, the school is nominally headed up by his sons Zhu Xiangyi and Zhu Xianghua. However, the school was shut on the day I visited, so I’m not sure how one would go about studying there. A couple of hundred yards further on, on a road that forks right off the main drag, is the Chen Village Taiji School run by Chen Xiaoxing:
The Chen Village Taiji School is by far the largest school in the village, and is both a private academic school (minban xue xiao) as well as a martial arts training centre. Next to the school is a Taiji ancestral temple built by Henan Tourist Board on the site of the Chen family graveyard. My guide, Mr Chen Shiyan, added as an aside that the Chen family had yet to receive compensation from the provincial government for the land, and so I skipped it without regret.
Finally, about 1km outside the school proper is Wang Xi’an’s school, the Chenjiagou Wushu School, run by his son Wang Zhanjun.
Like the Chen Village Taiji School, Wang Zhanjun’s school is both a martial arts training centre and a private academic school. The posters on the outside of the school detail Wang Zhanjun’s recent participation in CCTV’s Wulin Da Hui, as well as the new Guinness world record set in 2008 when he tossed a 2kg weight 98cm with his dantian.
Unfortunately, as I was in town looking for masters of the ‘small frame’ (xiao jia) Chen style, I only had a brief peek into the schools above. Fortuitously, a large billboard has been fixed to the wall of one of the buildings on the main road with profiles of small frame masters past and present, along with contact details of local small frame masters. After a few phone calls and dead ends, I found myself at the home of local master Chen Zhijing, whose home doubles as the headquarters of the Chen Style Small Frame Research Association.
M Chen kindly furnished me with some details about small frame and introduced me to some local masters, pictured below.
All of the masters above are either disciples or grand-disciples of Chen Kezhong, the noted 18th-generation small frame master.
Chen Lizhou’s case is especially interesting, as he initially studied large frame under Chen Zhaopi and Chen Maosen, then learnt xin jia (new frame) from Chen Zhaokui in the same ‘batch’ as the ‘4 Buddha’s Warrior Attendants’ (i.e. Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xi’an and Zhu Tiancai), only converting to small frame later in life. All the masters were unanimous in refuting the commonly repeated misconception that the small frame system was created by removing difficult or vigorous movements from the original routines.
They also agreed that stance holding (zhan zhuang) is a relatively recent introduction into the Chen taiji curriculum, saying that neither large frame nor small frame practitioners practiced zhan zhuang prior to the 1980s, and that it was introduced by Feng Zhiqiang on his visits back to Chen village in the early 80s.